WICHITA, Kan. — A Wichita teen who became the first to walk the halls of Children’s Mercy while on life support has died.
Zei Uwadia spent 457 days at Children’s Mercy battling an unexplained lung condition before returning home at the end of January, one day before her 17th birthday.
Days after coming home, according to a Go Fund Me page for Zei’s family, she died Monday night in her Wichita home. Doctors still don’t know what caused Zei’s lungs to fail.
“Zei won her battle with the universe tonight at 7:54 pm, at home, in her bed, in my arms,” the page says.
The 17-year-old spent more than a year pushing the boundaries of her recovery. She became the first patient at Children’s Mercy to walk while on life support and even kept eating her favorite foods and doing planks as exercise.
Zei’s mysterious medical journey began in October 2017, when she had difficulty breathing, desperately gasping for air. Her lungs were failing, but no one knew why.
As Zei’s symptoms became more alarming, her mother, Brie Kerschen, took her to see an emergency physician. Zei was admitted to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita. Then, on Halloween 2017, a medical flight transferred her to Children’s Mercy.
Doctors performed several tests to determine what could be causing the otherwise healthy teen to suffer, and they found clues that her symptoms might have been part of a severe allergic reaction to a common antibiotic.
Before being hospitalized, Zei was taking the antibiotic for an unrelated kidney infection, her mother said.
At Children’s Mercy Hospital, Zei paced the halls while tethered to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, machine that helped her breathe and kept her alive.
She was on ECMO support for 189 days. ECMO use for more than 100 days is rare. Zei was the hospital’s first patient to sit up, stand and walk while on ECMO.
“We all just believed she could get better — and her mom and she believed it,” saod Dr. Jenna Miller, a pediatric intensivist at Children’s Mercy Hospital who has been working on Zei’s case. “I think that was very powerful for everybody.”
Since then, Zei’s story has inspired patients and physicians around the world.
The teen’s family said funeral arrangements will be made over the next few days.